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Doing The Heavy Lifting

Shoreditch and the wider East End district of London has long been a gift for writers mining stories. It's where Elsie, the fun-loving friend of Frank in The Last Director of Shoreditch, has her roots.

Inspiration for Elsie came from reading about real life professional shoplifter Shirley Pitts, who lived for a time in the Hoxton part of Shoreditch, one of the areas where gentrification first let rip.

In her book, Gone Shopping: The Story of Shirley Pitts, Queen of Thieves, Lorraine Gamman beautifully draws out Shirley's story, based on many interviews with Shirley herself.

"It was much easier to shoplift in the mid-1950s... Thieving was much simpler then, there weren't mirrors and video cameras everywhere," Pitts told Gamman.

It was a job with travel between the spells in prison.

"I managed to get a little gang together who were pretty good and we went everywhere, not just to the West End but all over Europe. We took ourselves to Amsterdam, Paris as well as Geneva, and worked ourselves silly - loading the cases up and selling the gear when we got back." Gamman writes, quoting Pitts.

Shirley Pitts died in 1992 and was buried in a £5,000 pound dress by the 1960s iconic fashion designer Zandra Rhodes that Shirley "didn't buy over the counter".

Spoiler alert: Elsie, of course, is very much alive and kicking, but perhaps tempted to go straight, if only she can find the right man, that is. Until then, she's not someone to be messed with.

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Hear the story behind my novel

Listen to a podcast I did with the amazing which casts a spotlight on London, its people and history. I spoke about how my neighbourhood inspired me to write The Last Director of


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